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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Missing Katz's Pastrami

Here's a quick post on my favorite pastrami spot in LA, Langer's in McArthur Park. Maybe that isn't saying much, considering there is a dearth of good delis in LA, especially compared with New York.

Truth be told, my real favorite pastrami place is in New York. I have tried Second Avenue Deli and the touristy Carnegie Deli of monstrously massive cheesecake fame. Some may argue Katz's Delicatessen is equally touristy, but my pastrami heart belongs to Katz's no matter what anyone says. Nothing beats the piping, juicy slabs of hot pastrami on rye and mustard with bright green pickles on the side that Katz's offers. Not to mention atmosphere, but I digress.

This was supposed to be about Langer's. As much as I like Langer's, I guess I can't help but yearn for the best. Plus, I was miffed that Langer's skimped on the pastrami the last time I went and service was a tad slow. The delectable chicken soup (basically comfort food in a bowl) looked great when it arrived and tasted decent but everyone else had nearly finished their meals by then.

I usually try to avoid delis like Canter's on Fairfax and Nate'n Al in Beverly Hills, not to mention Junior's in Westwood. I'm not going to honor Jerry's infamous deli chain, which is a sacrilege in and of itself.

What makes a good pastrami? The meat has a deep, complex flavor that brings out the salt, garlic, pepper and spices smothered all over it before it was smoked. The slices are thin (Langer's is a tad thick for my taste), tender to the point of crumbliness, juicy and super hot -- fresh out of the steamer. The bread is soft. The mustard complements the meat and strong rye bread perfectly. The pickles' sourness adds another dimension of flavor.

If you have never tried pastrami, you are seriously missing out. Photos are courtesy of RSB, who thankfully has the foresight to carry everything one may ever need in her bag. Long live the giant tote! By the way, she recommends skipping the cole slaw.

Validated parking is available in a separate lot on Wilshire a block east of Alvarado, but I recommend taking the Red Line of the metro (McArthur Park station) if you work anywhere near Koreatown, Downtown or all the way in Union Station.

Langer's Delicatessen
704 S Alvarado Street (@Wilshire Blvd.)
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 483-8050

Sunday, December 16, 2007

None Tops This Dog

I finally made the trek out to Berkeley during my most recent Bay Area trip and took photos of my favorite hot dog of all time at Top Dog. I'm usually not a hot dog lover by any stretch and I frown when my partner shows a weakness for fast food. But this isn't fast food in the Fast Food Nation sense. It's the kind of dog whose quality you could vouch for. Top Dog prides itself in getting different sausages from the best vendors such as Molinari and Saag's.

I've tried most of the 11 kinds offered from the classic all-beef Top Dog to the healthier Lemon Chicken option but my perennial favorite is no doubt the Louisiana Hot Link, made of pork and beef and the spiciest of them all. The photo above certainly doesn't do it justice. The combination of the nicely warmed bun, the perfectly charred and juicy dog and the condiments is phenomenal. I'm a sauerkraut-kind-of person and boy, Top Dog has one mean sauerkraut. Top Dog practically turned me into a sauerkraut convert -- who knew piping hot fermented cabbage could look so inviting!

Not to undermine the importance of good mustard to finish off the toppings, Top Dog has at least three mustards to choose from depending on your heat tolerance. I like to have it with the mild mustard because the Hot Link is already pretty darn hot. The first bite into the sausage as it squirts yummy, spicy juices is so satisfying. Add the bread, sauerkraut and mustard and you're in heaven. Chopped onions are also available but I think they merely distract.

It's the perfect snack, at $3 a pop (it used to be $2.50 for the longest time) and you have to love the joint's decidedly anti-establishment messages wallpapered throughout its tiny space. I have had many debates about whether the original Top Dog in the Durant location has the best-tasting dog because of its weathered, aged griddle. I think it does.

When I went to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, to say I had overdosed on those ubiquitous bratwursts by the time I left three weeks later is an understatement. I was done, no more, nein danke. I swore I wouldn't have another hot dog again at least until the next Cup. Sure, a bratwurst is no Hot Link. But it's remarkable that the minute I saw Top Dog on the horizon, all traumatic memories of eating one too many bratwursts squeezed alongside those crazed, face-painted football fans whizzed away and the smell of hot dog on a griddle was irresistible.

We once bought the sausages and buns and served them to our friends and family at a beach-side barbecue to rave reviews (veggie dog available). It also helps that the place stays open late. The original shop closes at 2am (3am on Fridays and Saturdays) -- right around that time you hanker for something to get you going for the rest of the night to study for that exam or hop onto the next party (or just sleep).

Pink's or other hot dog joints in LA don't do it for me. I think Pink's is horrible and have yet to sample one here that's comparable to Top Dog. I was excited to see U-Dog in Westwood try a similar concept a few years ago but it didn't come close and it, well, closed (it is now a falafel place). Note to self: Must try the hot dog cart in Culver City that J Gold mentioned a few weeks ago.

Top Dog (Multiple locations)
Berkeley Southside
2534 Durant
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 843-5967